Saturday, August 25, 2012

Promotion Basics: Mailing Lists

Now that I've moderated two panels on social media for writers, I see that there are a lot of folks who are looking for practical and timely advice on how to promote their books. Not that I'm a marketing guru, but I spend a lot of time observing what other authors do and thinking about the impact of changes in technology on promotion, so I decided to start providing some tips on the blog. 

The first one will be on the importance of mailing lists. I think if you asked writers a few years ago, as MySpace was growing, if mailing lists were important, a lot of people would've said 'no'. Why bother compiling names and email addresses when (1) people were moving to social sites like MySpace, Facebook, etc to reach people. After all, the point of social sites was that it had the potential to go viral when one person told their network of friends within the site? There was also some debate that (2) people weren't using their email as much to communicate, especially the under 30 crowd.

With the recent changes in both the publishing industry and Facebook, though, building a healthy mailing list seems like a smart idea.

Book sales are moving online. Various sources report that more books were sold through online outlets than brick-and-mortar stores this year. That's for both print and ebooks. It's sad, of course. We all love bookstores and want them to be around forever. But people are doing more of their purchasing online, whether for books or anything else, for both convenience and price. Couple that with the fact that consumers have come to expect convenience with our online purchases; we decide instantly and we want the purchase to be quick and painless. One click, two at the most. So you want to take advantage of that by getting the links to buy your books in front of your customers.

But doesn't Amazon do that for me? Well, yes, maybe, sometimes. Amazon can't flood their customers' mailboxes with ads for your books. And the algorithm for their recommendation engine can be changed at any time to push some other author's book rather than yours. Besides, what about your customers who don't like to buy from Amazon?

Isn't your Facebook page like a mailing list? I've got 7,000 FB friends--why do I need to bother with a mailing list? The truth is that you don't really have control over whether all your FB friends or 'likers' see your posts. The algorithm determines it. This is because Facebook is now too big to show every single person every single one of your posts (unless they 'subscribe' to your posts. But that's another battle and who knows if this feature will continue?) Unless you have very few FB friends, (and thusly fewer posts for FB to push to you) you're only seeing posts from the people you interact with most frequently. That's why on FB business pages you now have the option of paying $5 to 'promote' a particular post. The algorithm will push the post to more of your 'likers' for three days, so a higher percentage of your fans will see it. (Don't forget, the rules for personal FB pages and business pages are different.)

Direct marketing is important again for writers. Start collecting names and email addresses now. In my experience, building a mailing list is slow. One person at a time, just like building an audience. For a future column, I'll talk about some things you can do to build your mailing list more quickly. Before you do that, however, you want to think about how you're going to handle your mailings. Using an email service is the most convenient way and there are several free or practically free ones available: Vertical Response, Mail Chimp, and Emma are a few. There are more. I'm not endorsing any one over another, just giving you some ideas of where to start.

One key consideration is exportability of the mailing list, in case you decide at some point to switch email providers. None of these services will make it easy for you to move to another provider, of course. But since you might find yourself locked in to the provider for a while, you want to make sure you're going to happy with their services.

If you plan to draft your own newsletters or mailings, you'll want to check out each services' templates. Make sure it's at your comfort level--not too complicated or too simple--and that they have designs that you feel represent the image you want for your books. Ask your author friends which service they use and if they're happy with it.

The importance of studying exemplars: Another idea to consider as you think about your mailings is to subscribe to your favorite successful author's newsletter to study their technique. Is their newsletter heavy on graphics? (Unless you're pretty handy with Photoshop, you'll need a graphic designer to put stuff together for you and this gets expensive. Think about what simple yet effective graphics might work for you.) What features do they put in their newsletters--a contest? a quiz? links to new free content such as a short story? A newsy letter about what's going on in their lives? Think about what's realistic for you to maintain (if you're producing this yourself).

Here's my suggestion: sign up for MJ Rose's newsletter. She does a nice job. She doesn't mail too frequently; she includes interesting tidbits that tie back to her latest project; and she usually gives a shout-out to new releases she thinks would be of interest to her readers.

Got a favorite author newsletter? Please give us his or her name in the comments section below so we can all benefit.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Upcoming Events

I have some events upcoming and I thought I'd post them here in lieu of writing something substantive and interesting (sorry! I've been working hammer and tong on one book after another and that seems to leave me unfit for writing blog posts at the end of the day):

Killer Nashville (August 23-26) is a writer's conference for mysteries, suspense and thrillers, but any writer would find good advice and networking here. Plus they have a super forensics track every year for writers who need to learn about law enforcement procedures. I'm giving a presentation on the US Intelligence Community for writers as part of the forensics track, and will be moderating a panel of social media.

September 19 I'll be reading at KGB Bar in New York as part of the Fantastic Fiction series. I'm honored to be reading at this long-running salon for writers of horror and fantasy, hosted by Ellen Datlow and Matthew Kressel. I'm sharing the stage with Paul Tremblay.

Hampton Roads Writers Conference, September 20-22, has something for everyone: poetry, non-fiction and fiction; traditional and self-published authors; editor and agent appointments. Not expensive and held at Virginia Beach. I'll be leading workshops on upping the ante in your story, and what to expect once you've sold a book.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Joining the New Wild West

Welcome to the New Wild West.

Of publishing, that is. I’m about to embark on an adventure in publishing my own short stories and I thought some of you want to know why I’m doing this. It doesn’t mean I’m not going to be published by my current traditional book publishers. Far from it—that relationship is strong, and plans are on track for the various editions of the current two books and the third book, THE DESCENT, to come out on schedule, both in the US and overseas.

This post is meant for those of you know who don’t follow the state of the publishing industry.  The rest of you already know that it is currently going through a revolution, though no less than the rest of the media industry is and has been for the past seven or eight years. But the book publishing industry is going through a particularly crazy time right now as fewer people depend on brick and mortar stores to get their books, and it’s revolutionizing everything.

Increasingly, every day, book sales are driven by sales of electronic books. Online book sales have surpassed sales of books in physical stores, and sales of ebooks account for a significant percent—if not the majority—of any book’s total sales.

Buying books online and particularly through an ereader—your Kindle, Nook, Kobo or other electronic reading device—is a different experience than in a physical store. The biggest difference for authors is that browsing is an extremely limited experience. If it’s not one of the handful of books that Amazon or Barnes & Noble  feels like pushing to you, you’re not going to see it. Studies have shown that most people who are heavy ereaders tend to only buy the books that are recommended by the recommendation system. They don’t really browse or poke around the site looking for undiscovered treasures.

That is really, really bad news for the 99.999 percent of authors who are not on the NYT bestseller list or Kindle’s Top 100 lists (whether paid or free). 

But that brings me to why I’ll be “selling” short stories through Kindle.

Until recently, authors tried to push their books into the Top 100 listing on Kindle by offering free books. It got to be a pretty good formula so Kindle stopped that. The author or publisher cannot give a book away anymore except with Amazon’s permission, and these days this permission only comes through its “Select” program. If you enroll in the Select program, you are entitled to offer your book for free for five days. Five days only. (I’m not going to go into the details of Amazon’s self-publishing program today. There’s plenty of information on it out on the internet. But if enough people are interested, I can write on this more in a future post.)

What this means is that the author must use a strategy to maximize exposure for their book on those few precious days the book is free, in order to concentrate downloads and, with a great deal of luck, push the book into the Top 100 list. And this is what I’ll be trying to do.

I’m telling you this so that, hopefully, you will understand when I tell you soon that “The Marriage Price”, a short story that’s part of The Taker saga, will be available on Kindle but that I hope you won’t download it until those precious “free” days (and I’ll announce when those days are, no worries about that!) But because I’m using these stories in this crazy attempt to “trend” on Kindle, the story won’t be available on other ereader platforms for 90 days, and I won’t be posting it on the website (at least, not for a while). It’s not because I don’t appreciate my fans—I do!—but because we live in a new age. I hope you’ll bear with me as I try some new things to try to bring more readers into our world, the world of Lanny, Jonathan and Adair.

Thank you in advance for understanding.